Being as busy as I am, effective time management is something I struggle with daily. Some days I feel as though my email inbox is a never-ending black hole and I wonder if I will ever again see the light of day. Other days, I hop from meeting to meeting and then all of a sudden, it’s 8pm and I still have a to-do list a mile long. An equally busy friend once told me, “the busier you are, the more you get done” – which may be true, but only if you effectively manage your time.
I recently delved into Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” as part of my graduate course and found something that opened my eyes to better time management. You may have heard of the time management matrix, but if not, hear me out.
Covey asserts that we all spend time in one of four ways, with two major defining factors – importance and urgency. Activities are deemed either important or unimportant and urgent or not urgent. For instance, a ringing phone is urgent. You are likely to set aside whatever else you are doing to answer the phone, even if you have someone in your office. Importance, on the other hand, is all about results. If it’s important, it is somehow contributing to your achievement of high-priority goals. The four ‘quadrants’ are shown below:
I share this, because seeing my time mapped out in this way changed the way I viewed my schedule. Everybody spends time in all four quadrants, but we may spend more time in one than the other. To make the most of our time, we ought to spend the majority of our time in Quadrant II, working on things that are important, but not urgent. Catching up with friends, exercise, planning – all of these things are important. Yet, these things are usually the last on our list, because they are easy to put off when more urgent tasks pop up, or when time-wasting activities such a facebook are more tempting.
In order to make more time for Quadrant II activities, we need to decrease, and eventually eliminate, time spend in Quadrants III and IV. It’s not possible to eliminate Quadrant I completely – there will always be something urgent that pops up – but we can minimize our time here by delegating and planning ahead. This way we won’t always be racing to meet deadlines and trying to put out fires.
It’s not the easiest thing to do – I’m not immune to the lure of social media and the occasional Netflix binge – but in the long run, spending more time on important but not urgent activities will be more rewarding. Your life will start to feel more balanced and meaningful, your time will feel better spent. Years from now when you look back, you won’t be worried about the meeting you missed or that season of Game of Thrones you fell behind on, you’ll remember the time spent with loved ones and the things you were able to accomplish. Next week, instead of taking on your schedule as if it were a storm to weather, take a moment this weekend to map out your week day by day and see if you can organize it in such a way that allows you to spend some time on these types of activities. Maybe Monday won’t seem so scary!